Reforming Japan’s greying agricultural sector
19 August 2016
Authors: Patricia L. Maclachlan, University of Texas, and Kay Shimizu, University of Pittsburgh
In 2015, the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spearheaded a series of unprecedented amendments to the 1947 Agricultural Cooperative Law. These changes will loosen the stifling controls of the national and prefectural organisations of Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) over local co-ops and farmers. The fact that the amendments were hammered out while Japan was in the throes of negotiating its participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) suggests that the government was intent on strengthening competition in the farm sector in anticipation of freer trade.
But while there is no doubt that the Abe government is committed to agricultural liberalisation, the spectre of the TPP took a back seat to domestic incentives for reform. Among those incentives are deteriorating demographic and economic conditions in the countryside and changes within JA itself.
Japanese agriculture is in the midst of a multi-faceted crisis. For starters, farmers are ageing at an alarming rate. In 2010, 23 per cent of the general population was age 65 or older, while the corresponding proportion for commercial farmers was a whopping 61.6 per cent — nearly double that of 1990. By 2014, that figure had risen to 63.6 per cent.
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